Like many people my age I love Peep Show, it’s our generation’s equivalent to Friends. Everyone thinks they’re just like Mark and Jez, and most friend groups have that one friend who is worryingly akin to Super Hans. The main appeal of the show is its realness. It’s hilarious because it doesn’t try to be funny and although packed with one-liners and bizarre storylines, every aspect seems totally plausible and not forced.
Anyway, as I have now watched it more times than I’d care to admit, I thought over the Christmas period that I should give some of their other material a try. I came across Upstart Crow, this only has David Mitchell however.
The premise had potential, essentially Mr Mitchell plays the infamous bard, William Shakespeare. However, he’s not quite the man we learn about in English class; he’s basically Mark Corrigan in Renaissance gear. His family and companions are constantly mocking him for his ridiculously long-winded metaphors, boring plays and homoerotic tendencies. It is heavily loaded with references to his plays and sonnets and popular culture. At one point, Shakespeare laughs at the idea of crowds finding it entertaining to watch the living dead — I’m sure you can work out which TV show they are referring to.
I shan’t delve into the inner workings of the plot, however, there are several things about the show which I feel should be noted. Initially, I thought this show would be right up my street, it had everything, David Mitchell, dry humour and Shakespeare. And although I found some of the jokes a tad cringeworthy, notably the one in the aforementioned paragraph, I thought that’s just the BBC trying to appear current.
Indeed, the show tongue and cheekily deals with the theme of upper-class privilege; this is of course quite a hot topic right now. As an example, a dim posh character dies, but because of his birth he still gets into Oxbridge and achieves a First. Moreover, Shakespeare, epitomising good old middle-class hard work and merit, is called an upstart crow by the ‘poshos’ due to his position in society but lack of education and title.
However, my praise has to stop there. Sadly, the majority of the humour belongs in the past. Just to point to three instances. Bottom, Shakespeare’s sidekick, seems to embody the stereotype of the ‘dumb northerner’ who dines on dung. His daughter, a chavy London teenager. And his father, a blithering idiot from Somerset. These are outdated and overdone tropes that should have left TV twenty years ago. I imagine the only people who won’t wince at these caricatures are the oh, so well-read middle class. They’ll say that the show is meant to satire prejudice and if you are offended then it’s political correctness gone mad.
Believe me, if you watch the show, you’ll soon realise it’s not intelligent wit, just cheap gags, aimed at amusing the white, middling strata (oh yes, there are also no BAME characters, apart from in episode one which included, bordering on the offensive, a black tribalesque apothecary).
Moreover, throughout the entire series, I kept thinking ‘God this is a lot like Blackadder’. Not only was the humour very similar, but it was as if I was watching Blackadder, Baldrick, George, Bob and Flash jostle around my screen. And then I realised the creator, Ben Elton, also made Blackadder; clearly, he thought sticking to a formula which worked thirty years ago would have the same punch in 2018. Unsurprisingly, society and comedy have changed.
Regrettably, it would seem even David Mitchell will sacrifice comedy for a lump sum now.